I would expect retired people to have plenty of time on their hands and nothing particular to do. But I can see from those around me that their retirement is anything but that. Most of them are very busy, and getting hold of them sometimes borders on the impossible – which is certainly good for their physical and mental health, not to mention the great help they give to their children, grandchildren and pets. They support local communities and charities, and they keep local restaurants, eateries and garden centres economically viable. Who else but them would tread paths in the woodlands and along the coast, keeping them clear and accessible for the rest of us? Keeping active is important, and I really worry about those who – for various reasons – can’t be.
Today’s gospel presents Jesus teaching people on the shore of Lake Gennesaret. He doesn’t have a portable PA system, so those who want to hear him clearly push forward, and the situation becomes uncomfortable and even dangerous. But there are a few individuals nearby who don’t bother about all this fuss. They are fishermen, cleaning their nets on the shore. They are tired and unhappy as their all-night fishing trip turned out to be futile. They see and hear all the commotion next to them and – I imagine that – perhaps they think unfavourably about this good-for-nothing crowd wasting their time with a wandering preacher. They, the hard working fishermen, don’t have time for this nonsense. There are many people in this country who consider religious activities as wasteful and hollow, while there are so many more important things to do. Suddenly Jesus gets into one of the boats and asks the fishermen to pull out a bit from the shore. Sound carries well across the water, so the crowd can hear Jesus without pressing in on him. I think that Simon agrees rather reluctantly; the prospect of finishing the job and going home fades. Politeness towards ministers of religion can be very inconvenient, particularly when you have something better to do. In this way, Simon is somehow forced to listen to Jesus while sitting with him in the boat gently rolling on the waves. Something in Jesus’ teaching must have touched Simon because, against his own experience and exhaustion, he acts upon Jesus’ request to put out into deep water and cast the nets. I know from my own dealings with tradesmen how difficult it can be to convince them to do something that goes against their unquestionable expertise and experience. We know the final result of that catch: the nets so full of fish that they are almost tearing, and the fishermen urgently requiring the help of their business partners.
Think about your own busy-ness; think about all the things you consider to be necessary, important, crucial; things you seemingly have to do. Are all of them really like that? I know that sometimes I have got something done, but when I look back I can see clearly that it was a downright waste of time. A good few years ago I volunteered to produce a map of parishes and deaneries in our diocese. I worked like mad, burning the midnight oil… in a few days the map was ready. Since then it hasn’t been used even once by those who requested it. It was an utter, total, absolute waste of my time! Among the problems plaguing our modern life is this maddening pace combined with the expectation of an immediate response or of an instant action. We hear from time to time about people getting themselves into hot water by putting comments on social media – their understanding of what they are actually doing seems to follow rather than precede their activities. We really need to stop from time to time to review our priorities, activities and actions. Sometimes we are forced to do this by illness or unfortunate events: these might even come too late for us to do anything about it. But we don’t have to be compelled: we can decide for ourselves to stop and reconsider our lives, not necessarily because they are bad or wrong; in fact, we may be able to discern that everything is all right. Perhaps you might like to consider that Lent, which begins this Wednesday, would be a good time for you purposely to slow down in order to have a look at your life. And, if you are a believer, you may even consider looking at your life with Jesus and have a wee chat with Him. Who knows, perhaps you can learn from him something that goes counter to your expansive knowledge and life experience. Something valuable.